Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pear Compote with Brie in Phyllo Cups [Rhonda]

Tonight's New Year's Eve festivities will start with a glass of Veuve Clicquot and these easy-to-make pear and brie bites. This is the quick version. If you have the time, you can make your own phyllo shells. It's not difficult and they're a bit more dramatic in shape and lightness. Either way, this is a lovely opener.


(Makes 30)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1 1/4 lbs. firm but ripe pears, peeled cored and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon cognac
2 boxes (15 count) frozen mini phyllo dough shells, thawed
1/2 lb. brie, rind removed

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in sugar and cinnamon, then add pears and mix well. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until pears are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in cognac. Remove from heat and let cool.

Heat oven to 350 F. Arrange phyllo shells on baking sheet. Slice brie into small pieces. Spoon pear mixture into phyllo shells then top each shell with a piece of brie.

Bake 9 to 11 minutes, or until the brie melts. Serve hot.

If you want to make your own phyllo shells:

6 sheets phyllo dough, each trimmed to 12 by 16 inches and cut into 48 two-inch squares (stack the sheets and cut them all at once)
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Mold 3 phyllo squares into the bottom of a miniature (1 inch) muffin tin. Place 3 more phyllo squares at a 45-degree angle on top and press gently into the muffin cups. Brush lightly with melted butter. Cook until lightly golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Let cool. Place on a baking sheet and cover tightly with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Suggested soundtrack: J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 Allegro. Any version. It's all good. (I'm listening to Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Pumpkin-Carrot Soup Shooters with Coconut Cream [Rhonda]

(Photo by Matt Koulermos)

Once again, Cooking with Friends knocked our socks off at this year's holiday party with a super fabulous starter, a soup that holds a bit of mystery along with big flavors. It was served in mini martini glasses, but when I made it at home for Matt, a small bowl worked nicely.

Jalapeno heat and a hint of coconut make this soup intriguing. The recipe yields about 6 cups worth and freezes well, minus the coconut cream. Add that fresh when you serve.


3 tablespoons butter
2 large shallots
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon pimenton (sweet smoked Spanish paprika)
6 cups of vegetable broth
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1 lb. carrots, peeled and diced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Coconut Cream
Garnish with toasted flaked coconut

1. Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add shallots, red bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeno. Then sauté 5 minutes or until golden. Add carrots and sauté 5 minutes. Stir in ginger and pimento and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Stir in broth and pumpkin, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Process soup in food processor  until smooth. Stir in heavy cream. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until hot. For thinner soup, stir in more broth, a little at a time. Pour into small glasses or bowls, dollop with coconut cream.

3. Coconut Cream:
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups)
Place 1/2 cup cold heavy cream and a pinch of salt in a chilled bowl, beat at medium high speed until foamy. Add 1/3 cup coconut milk, beat until soft peaks form.

Suggested soundtrack: "Say Something," with Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World. Not because it has anything to do with soup, but the melody and lyrics are heartbreakingly lovely.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Lamb and Mushroom Winter Ragu over Pappardelli [Zack]

It's winter.  Whether you like being out in the cold or not, most people agree that comfort food is best eaten looking out of your window and being happy that you are inside and warm.

This pasta dish squarely sits in the "comfort food" section of my recipes.  Each ingredient is added with the intent of boosting the umami factor.  I suggest getting a whole lamb shoulder from the butcher and to cube the meat yourself.  You'll save tons of money and plus you'll get to throw the bone into the pot to add even more flavor!!

You'll notice that fish sauce is in the recipe.  This is the secret ingredient that adds deep and bassy flavors to Thai or Asian cooking.  A touch of it will make a huge difference, and as long as you don't overdo it, you'll never notice any fishy flavor.


Wash and slice the mushrooms, and slice the red onions into moon slivers.  Cube the shoulder meat into roughly 1 inch chunks, keeping the bone.

Place a pot with a lid or a dutch oven over medium heat.  Brown the lamb on one side only, in a little bit of canola oil in batches.  For a scientific detailing on how your meat will retain more moisture, please see Kenji's explanation.

Transfer the lamb cubes to a plate, and toss the mushrooms and onions into the pot.  Add a bit more oil if needed.  Let these cook for about 5 minutes.

Then add the lamb back in, along with the bone.

The dried mushrooms, the red wine, 1tsp fish sauce, and the tomato puree all can join the party now.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 3-4 hours.  Remember to stir it every once in a while so you won't get burned bits sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Your ragu should darken and thicken up noticeably.  Taste, and see if it can take more fish sauce.  I normally put about 2tsp in.  Adjust the salt and sugar (if needed).  To test if the ragu is finished, pull out a piece of lamb and see if it falls apart like pulled pork.

Take the bone out, salvage any good meat on it with your fingers, and throw the meat back in like you're a professional fisherman.

I like to serve the ragu over wide noodles that the sauce will get clingy.  I topped mine with some grated pecorino.

3 lb / 1.5 kg lamb shoulder
1 lb / 500g assorted mushrooms
1/2 cup dried mushrooms
2 medium red onions
2 cups red wine
3 cups tomato puree
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1-2 tsp fish sauce, to taste

pappardelli or other wide noodles
grated pecorino cheese

Song:  Mystikal - Bouncin Back
Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall) by Mystikal on Grooveshark

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thai Veggie Coconut Curry Served in a Coconut [Zack]

I really like coconut curries.  There are a million different recipes online of how to make them.  To avoid the confusion, I always start with a set base of ingredients.  Then I deviate my recipe based on what I want to cook.  I combine a paste of ginger, garlic, and chilies with coconut milk, fish sauce, and soy sauce.  That’s it!

You can get crazy and add mussels (cook until they open), sautéed beef strips (flash brown them in a pan), shrimp (cook in curry until finished), or chicken (flash brown it in a pan first).  The recipe here is a basic one with only vegetables.  I served it in a coconut that I cut in half (directions here on how to halve a coconut).


Here is a shot of the ingredients:

Grind up cumin seeds, garlic, and ginger in your mortar and pestle.  If you want heat, add 1-2 birds eye chilies.  If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, just use ½ tsp cumin powder and chop the ginger and garlic.

Start a pot over medium low heat, and add 1T of ghee or butter into the pot, along with 1tsp of sesame oil.   Slice the onions into moons, wash and slice the mushrooms, and dice the eggplant and zucchini into ½ inch cubes.

Also, take out your lemongrass and use the back end of your knife to bash it up – it will release more flavor into the curry.

Add all of the veggies into the pot.

Saute until they start caramelizing a bit - about 10 mins.  Add the ginger/garlic/cumin paste, plus the lemon grass during the last minute of cooking, and stir everything around until it becomes fragrant.

Pour the coconut milk into the pot and flavor it with the fish sauce and soy sauce.  Taste and see if you need to add 1/2 tsp of sugar.  Cook for a few minutes to let all of the flavors combine.  If it's too thick, you can add a bit of water to thin it out.  I added 1/2 cup to mine, but it depends on the type of coconut milk you bought.

Serve in a bowl or a half coconut. Garnish with fresh-chopped cilantro, a wedge of lime, and some extra chilies for the brave.

1tsp cumin seeds
3 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
1-2 birdseye chilies (optional)
1 red onion
2 cups mushrooms
1 eggplant
1 zucchini
1 stalk lemongrass
1T sesame oil
1T ghee or butter or canola oil
13.5 oz / 1.7 cups of coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1T fish sauce
1tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

Song:  Drake - Hold on, we're going home
Hold On, We're Going Home Ft. Majid Jordan by Drake on Grooveshark

How to Crack a Coconut Perfectly in Half [Zack]

A cleanly-halved coconut makes a great serving vessel.  You can pour pina coladas, fresh fruit, or even curries into them for a unique presentation.  Below are instructions on how to halve a coconut!


First, you need to drain the water out of the coconut.  To do this, you need to gouge the eyes you with a screwdriver and a hammer.  Rest the coconut on a cutting board so the eyes are facing up, and gently tap the screwdriver point through one of the eyes.  It should go through without too much fuss.  Repeat the process for the other 2 holes. 

 Now your coconut should look sufficiently worried.  Poor lil guy.  

Turn it upside down and let the water drain into a glass.

Once that’s finished, you’ll need to get crackin.  Take the back of a heavy knife (I used the back of my cleaver) and start tapping firmly along the equator of the coconut.  

Slowly turn the coconut in your hand and continue tapping.  You should see a crack form where you were striking it.

Once it’s broken in half, wash out any chipped shell that may have ended up inside, and use it how you like!  Pro tip:  if you are serving a liquid in the half that has the holes from the eyes, you can put a square of baking parchment paper on the bottom so the liquid doesn’t escape!

1 coconut
1 hammer
1 screwdriver
1 heavy knife

Song:  Movits - Skjut mig i huvet
Skjut mig i huvet by Movits! on Grooveshark

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Puff Pastry Vegetable Tart [Zack]

I am always trying to find uses for the puff pastry sheets in my freezer.  This breakfast "pizza" was created using all of the ingredients in our fridge.  Feel free to get creative!


Lay down some foil on a baking sheet, and butter it.  Defrost 2 puff pastry squares and pinch them together to form a long rectangle.

Slice onions into moons and throw them in a pan with some butter to caramelize them.  Cook for 5 minutes or so over medium heat.  Add some sliced mushrooms to the mix if you want.

Spread the red pepper paste over the top as you would tomato sauce for a pizza (leaving a small border for crust).  Place your caramelized onions and mushrooms on top, then shave the parmesan on top.  Some slices of a red or yellow pepper will give it color.  Top with shredded kale and a drizzle of olive oil.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown

2 puff pastry squares
1 small tab butter
1 T red pepper paste
shaved parmesean reggiano
a few slices of red or yellow pepper
1/4 cup mushrooms
1/2 medium onion
1/2 cup shredded kale

Song:  Kanye - Champion
Champion by Kanye West on Grooveshark

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Coconut Dhal Curry [Zack]

This is a simple Dhal (lentil) curry that you can make at home with a pressure cooker.  You can chop and toss everything into the pressure cooker and have dinner on the table in 45 minutes.  The coconut milk adds a sweetness to the lentils, and the fish sauce brings the umami to the party.  Leave the fish sauce out for a totally veg meal.

Start by grinding up cumin seeds, harissa powder, and the onion powder in a mortar and pestle. Then peel the ginger and garlic, loosely chop them, and then add them to the mortar and pestle with the powder. Mash until it makes a paste.

Slice the onion, red pepper, and the tomatoes. Heat up your pressure cooker over medium heat and add some butter, oil, or ghee into the bottom. Saute the onions and red peppers together for about 5 minutes. Then, add the paste to the pot and cook for about a minute (until it becomes fragrant). Add the tomatoes to the party and your 1.5 cups of lentils. Make sure to look for small stones in the lentils by dumping them on a plate and sorting through.

Add the 3 cups of water and cover the pressure cooker. Cover, and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes over medium heat. Make sure to shake it around every 5 minutes, so nothing sticks to the bottom.

You can cook your rice that you’ll combine with the lentils while the pressure cooker is going. Also, dice the onions, peppers, jalapenos, and coriander for the topping.  Combine all of the diced veggies into a bowl.

De-pressurize your cooker, and add in the fish sauce and coconut milk.  Add a bit more salt or maple syrup if necessary.

Serve over the rice, and topped with the fresh garnish!

1.5 red peppers
1.5 cups lentils
3 cups water
3 tomatoes
1 red onion
1 fat inch ginger
4 cloves garlic
2T cumin seeds
2T harissa powder
1T dried onion powder
½ cup coconut milk
1.5T fish sauce
1tsp sugar or maple syrup (if it needs a kick of sweetness)

For the topping, combine:
½ red onion
½ red pepper
¼ cup pickled jalapenos
1 fist-full of coriander

Song:  Raphael Saadiq - Good Man
Good Man by Raphael Saadiq on Grooveshark